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For ADHD Kids, Fidgeting May Be Important Part Of The Learning Process

Florida State University

Probably for as long as there have been schools, teachers have been telling fidgety kids to sit still and do their work.  But some new research suggests that may be bad advice when it comes to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The first question is, just how many kids may actually have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

“It’s about 3-5 percent of school age children and that estimate is the same, said Dr. Michael Kofler.  “They’ve done the research across every continent except Antarctica.  When we use the same criteria, the prevalence is about the same around the world, right in that 5-percent range.”

Kofler directs the Children’s Learning Clinic in the Psychology Department of Florida State University.  He knows more about ADHD than many other psychologists and certainly more than most teachers.  He said kids who were in a residential treatment program he was involved with some years ago showed pretty significant improvement.

“While the kids were with us, we weren’t seeing many of their behavior problems, or at least not as much,” Kofler recalled.  “We had structure and reinforcement and all these things that work really well while they’re in place.  But then we’d send the kids home, whether it was for the weekend or they’d get discharged, and we’d hear over and over again that nothing had changed.”

The big unanswered question, Kofler said, is why this would be so.

“I got the opportunity to work with Professor Mark Rapport at the University of Central Florida who was really challenging the DSM – the Diagnostic Manual’s view – of ADHD as even a disorder that primarily features attention problems, the idea being that there’s something else going on and what we’re seeing with these behaviors is a result of those underlying mechanisms.”

The behaviors Kofler is referring to are the squirming, foot tapping and other seemingly compulsive activities that were part of the “Attention Deficit Hyperactive” diagnosis.  Grownups usually ordered such children to sit still and concentrate on their work.  The problem, said Kofler, is that, for such kids, concentration is only possible if they don’t sit still.

“For kids with ADHD in particular, the movement seems to be helpful.  Our recent study, which is a collaboration with my colleagues at the University of Central Florida, Florida International and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, actually found that kids with ADHD remember more and can process more things when they’re moving more, relative to when they’re moving less.”

Kofler said using physical movement to get the mental juices flowing is by no means limited to children with ADHD.

“Next time you’re in a long meeting, look around the room after about an hour and you’ll see people moving around in their chairs or getting up.  Either that or they’ve got a pot of coffee in front of them to get that arousal benefit for them.  We think we have the same thing going on with kids with ADHD and so we’re following this up by adding some measurement of some of those physiological arousal processes.”

Depending on how that research pans out, Kofler said schools may have to rethink the way they deal with ADHD students.

“I don’t think we’re talking about a radical change,” he speculated. “I think just maybe relaxing the definition of what it means to be 'in your seat’ or what it means to be ‘working’ and again focusing on whether or not they’re doing their work.”

Perhaps further proof of the old saying that different people often learn in different ways.